Carrboro manager: Extra raises resolved fair pay concerns

tgrubb@newsobserver.comFebruary 4, 2014 

— Two Carrboro town administrators got double-digit pay increases in recent years as the town tried to raise workers’ salaries to market levels, the town manager says.

Economic and community development director Annette Stone got three raises totaling 10 percent in July 2012 and July 2013.

Police Capt. Cornell Lamb’s salary increased 13.5 percent from July 2012 to September 2013. In 2009, he also received a 5 percent raise when promoted to captain.

Other town employees, after three years without any raises, received cost-of-living increases of 3 percent in 2012 and 1.9 percent in 2013. The pay for performance, or merit-based, portion of Carrboro’s pay and classification plan was suspended after the 2008 recession.

The town manager typically recommends employee raises to the Board of Aldermen during budget planning each spring. Interim Human Resources director John McCrary said they also have options for changing salaries outside the budget process, including for promotions and pay equity.

Town Manager David Andrews said Stone and Lamb weren’t making enough in the first place. He doesn’t expect to approve any other raises outside the budget process.

Former Town Manager Steve Stewart hired Stone in March 2011 at $72,000. She got the townwide pay increases in 2012 and 2013, but Andrews also gave her a 5.17 percent raise in July 2012. She now earns $79,482.

The raise gave Stone closer to market pay but still less than Chapel Hill’s and Orange County’s economic development directors earn, he said.

Orange County’s economic development director, Steve Brantley, was hired in September 2011 and earns $96,900 a year. Chapel Hill director Dwight Bassett was hired in June 2007 and returned after working for a brief time in Raleigh. He earns $93,330.

When Andrews gave Lamb an 8.6 percent raise in September, he was barely earning the town’s minimum salary for his position. Lamb joined the department in 1997 and was promoted to captain in 2009, getting a 5 percent raise.

“Several of his subordinates were making significantly more than he was,” Andrews said.

Lamb now earns $73,500 a year, nearly the median salary for his position.

‘Philosophies change’

The town’s pay and classification plan was started in 2004 to lift employees to market rate – the midpoint of their salary ranges – and reward high performers, Stewart said. The plan stalled when the economy soured in 2008, he said.

But “philosophies change with managers and boards,” he said.

Andrews said pay increases should be a reward for quality work. Carrboro officials want to pay consistent and competitive wages, and they can give larger raises to address pay equity issues, he said. Another market study is possible.

“The two cost-of-living adjustments in the last two years were really an attempt by the board and management to stay competitive,” Andrews said. “We’ve been on par with what (other governments) have done.”

Chapel Hill officials said Saturday they also are looking at moving to a merit-based pay system rather than just across-the-board pay increases. The town has been putting a new plan into effect the last few years to provide employees with market-rate salaries.

Most Carrboro department heads did not return calls seeking comment. A Jan. 28 email from McCrary told them to refer questions to his office.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle also did not respond to a request for comment.

‘A good rapport’

Stone declined to discuss her salary but cited several projects she’s spearheaded, including a downtown branding campaign and plans for a Cultural Arts and Entertainment District. Stone also revised town Revolving Loan Fund guidelines and secured a $250,000 grant for the Roberson Street sewer project. The work will help resolve Main Street sewer problems and could create additional economic development sites downtown.

She has a half-time assistant and a $259,934 budget, roughly 55 percent of which pays for services, records show. She also administers the town’s special revenue funds, including the Affordable Housing Fund, Revolving Loan Fund and Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund.

“I feel like I’ve developed a good rapport with the business community,” she said.

Stone researched her Triangle peers’ salaries and may have had an “understanding” with Stewart about a one-year salary review, Andrews said.

Stewart said that’s not something he would have done. At the least, there would have been a note in Stone’s file, he said.

Andrews said it was then-Chief Carolyn Hutchison who first alerted him to the Police Department’s pay disparities. He shared her concerns after reviewing all 155 town employee salaries, he said.

When Hutchison retired in September, Capt. Walter Horton was promoted to police chief. Like Lamb, he also made less as captain than some of his lieutenants and got a 31 percent raise with his promotion to address pay equity. He now earns $90,000 a year and manages 41 full-time employees and a $3.6 million budget, up 8 percent from last year.

After 29 years with the town – 15 years as chief – Hutchison earned $96,792, roughly $2,000 below her job’s median salary.

Horton said the department still has salary issues, largely because of new hires coming in at a higher pay rate than longtime employees. The town is working to correct them, and he will work with the town’s new human resources director to start a career progression program. That will allow officers to get more supervisory and leadership training and experience, move ahead and earn more, he said.

Officers assume more duties because of Carrboro’s size but face the same dangers as officers in larger cities, he said.

“We have good people, and pay is an important thing to make sure we keep these people and not lose them to other agencies,” Horton said.

Grubb: 919-932-87463

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